Energy Data Brings HVAC Savings

  December 18, 2014

At McGill University, energy data has been used to drive HVAC savings.

McGill is one of Canada's oldest universities, established in 1821. It is also the most energy-intensive university in the province of Québec. Research, around-the-clock operations, extreme climate, old facilities, and heritage buildings are some of the university's main challenges in terms of energy performance. Where other building owners could strip down a building completely to accommodate leading-edge chemistry labs, McGill must make do with heritage buildings and 100-year-old building envelopes.

There have also been economic and organizational barriers to energy conservation. The province benefits from the cheapest electricity rates in North America; most of Québec's power is from hydro and wind sources, thus limiting the potential for greenhouse gas emission reduction; and faculties do not pay for their energy bills, which are defrayed by the university. The great number of campus HVAC systems and their day-to-day management are other challenges.

McGill's senior administration decided to become one of the most energy-efficient universities in Canada. In 2009, the director of utilities and energy management laid the groundwork for what would become McGill's five-year energy management plan to reduce on-campus energy intensity by 25 percent. The plan was adopted by McGill's senior administration in 2010 and later updated in 2013. The plan comprises $30 million worth of investments to reduce annual energy expenditures by $6 million.

The plan proposed in 2010 comprised the deployment of an energy management information system (EMIS) as well as different programs such as energy audits, retrocommissioning, lighting retrofits, and HVAC upgrades. The EMIS project was the cornerstone of the plan. Prior to 2010, most buildings were not metered individually, and there was no knowing where energy losses occurred. The intent behind the EMIS was manifold: 1) monitoring improvements in day-to-day building operations; 2) documenting savings generated by the different programs of the plan; 3) prioritizing energy conservation measures based on savings potential. Documenting savings was a condition made by McGill's administration to back up the plan. The different energy conservation measures are funded through a loan; energy savings, benchmarked against consultants' estimates and measured with the EMIS, are used to repay the loan over amortization periods determined by McGill's accounting department.

This brief came from Jerome Conraud of McGill University.

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